Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Braille Pin Board

Our object this week is a braille pin board which belonged to a home teacher of blind students in Connecticut named Corrine Delesdernier.  She attended the Perkins School in Watertown, Massachusetts and died in 1957.  Her wooden frame contains a brass board with 225 perforated braille cells in a fifteen by fifteen grid.  The rows are numbered in braille one to fifteen and the columns are lettered “A” through “O”. A cloth cushion on the right stores push pins that can be used to create raised braille symbols. Most of the pins have white, round plastic heads; a few are steel pins with clear glass heads.  I have most often seen these types of boards used to create braille crossword puzzles.  The Royal National Institute for the Blind in England sold a similar design in its 1933 catalog.  The frame of the pin board is clearly stamped “PERKINS INST FOR THE BLIND” although it is not clear if it was made at Perkins or purchased by them.
Caption: Braille Pin board
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Quick Tip: APH Annual Meeting 2017. The APH Annual Meeting is like a yearly homecoming for those in the blindness field, giving us opportunities to catch up, meet new people, and network with old friends and acquaintances.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October 2017 APH News

APH News is your monthly link to the latest information on the products, services, field tests, and training opportunities from the American Printing House for the Blind.

This week, visitors to APH’s 149th Annual Meeting will be able to navigate inside the Louisville International Airport using the new Indoor Explorer feature of our Nearby Explorer™ app for iOS®!

 A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

  • Indoor Navigation at Annual Meeting
  • NEW! Indoor Explorer
  • NEW! NewT Kit
  • NEW! Early Braille Trade Books: Rigby PM Platinum—UEB
  • NEW! Math Flash (Action for Google Home/Google Assistant)
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • In Memoriam: Remembering Jack Decker
  • NEW! Handy Overview of Building on Patterns
  • Accessible Appliances: GE, Firstbuild, and an Inventive Young Man
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Monday, October 09, 2017

LOOK! The New Online Tool for Improving Reading Skills of Individuals with CVI

What Is It?

In its blog, CVI Scotland introduces us to its new online tool, Look, which people with CVI can use to learn to read or improve their existing reading skills. Here is a portion of CVI Scotland’s description of Look:

Look is a reading tool created by CVI SCOTLAND, with multiple functions and settings, designed to make reading easier for people with CVI. Look can be used for all levels of reader, from a non-reader learning to read, to an experienced reader wanting specific settings to read faster and more comfortably.

Look enables the user to insert any text (up to 10,000 words), and adjust the settings, to read a single word on an uncluttered screen, and either change each word manually, or set the speed for Look to present the words automatically at your comfortable reading speed.

You may view one word at a time on the screen or view as much as one sentence at a time. Look contains a host of settings, some of which may be unfamiliar. It is quite likely that each user will prefer differing settings, so experimentation is strongly encouraged. This information about settings should enable anyone to gain a better understanding of what each setting does.

Look’s Flexibility

You can use Look on tablets, computers, and smartphones. It is designed to limit visual clutter on the screen; nevertheless, it is best to make the surrounding environment as free of distractions as possible. Use the tool in a quiet place with little or no visual or auditory distractions to increase its effectiveness.

Reading with Recognition

CVI Scotland also provides a short, handy list of tips for improving the reading ability of individuals with CVI. Check out the Reading with Recognition tutorial to determine if their suggestions may improve the literacy skills of anyone you work with who has CVI.

CVI Scotland reminds us that each individual’s situation is unique, making it difficult to determine what settings and suggestions will work best for individual students. For this reason, CVI Scotland has created this flexible tool with many configurable settings while including the tips mentioned above.

Look is free to use. You can click the following link to start using it. When you do, you should locate a “Click here to start using Look” button. When you select it, you should find all of the settings that you can change and the tool on the screen.

There is nothing to download. Bookmark the website or save it to your favorites so you have quick access to it. Check out this link to read the summary provided by CVI Scotland, access additional information, and try the Look tool. Please share this post or the link provided in our social media posts, and let us know, through any of these channels, how the tool works for you. Also remember that APH offers a thorough and informative website dedicated to CVI at

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Triformation BD-3 Embosser

The BD-3 was Triformation's first braille embosser, released in 1971. The BD-3 was the first commercially available digital braille embosser in the U.S.  On the outside it looks like a normal American Tourister suitcase.  On the inside you get the deluxe mid-century faux woodgrain table with a reel of paper tape, a covered embossing head, and a small row of switches, lights, and jacks.  It was described as a "braille verifier," producing braille copy on paper tape as regular copy was typed, either by a teletype machine, or a computer terminal.  It weighed 15 pounds and cost $1,850.  Triformation's full sheet embosser, the LED-120, became available in June 1974, and although more expensive, $9,000, it was much more popular.
This example was obtained by Howard Goldstein while studying computer science at the University of Connecticut in 1976.  It was connected to a Teletype Model 33 teleprinter, producing braille on paper tape as the teleprinter produced print.  According to Goldstein, he did not use the BD-3 very much.  He found moving from the teleprinter keyboard to read the tape was too awkward and slow. It was faster to have someone read out the output of the teletype than use the BD-3.
Photo Caption: The Triformation BD-3 Embosser fit into a small American Tourister suitcase and embossed on paper tape.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: G-4 Obstacle Detector

Blind since boyhood, Thomas A. Benham earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from Penn and taught physics and math at Haverford College until he retired in 1976. In 1950, he began working under contract with the Veterans Administration to evaluate the Signal Corps Obstacle Detector, a pioneering electronic travel aid.  In 1953, Haverford subcontracted further investigations to Biophysical Instruments, Inc., whose lead investigator, Malvern Benjamin, worked with Benham to develop three different prototype obstacle detectors based upon the same principles as the Signal Corps model.  All three used reflected light to detect obstacles/objects in the direction ahead of the user.  The G-4 was an early model which apparently never made it past the prototype stage. About half the size of a box of cereal, its brown Bakelite case has two large lenses on the front, a heavy battery in its base, and an angled handle with a crystal knob on the top that would vibrate when an obstacle was detected.  The G-4 is part of the museum’s Warren Bledsoe O&M Archives.
Photo Caption:  Brown Bakelite handheld obstacle detector.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Tactile Poker Chips

Have you ever seen tactile poker chips?  They have been making braille playing cards for more than a hundred years, so I guess it makes sense that you need accessible chips too.  These plastic red, white, and blue chips came in the traditional round, an octagon, and a scalloped round.  We found them on ebay, but I don’t know any other history.  Send us your stories of any tactile chips you have used. Add comments to this post or to the accompanying posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Spine Chase

Our museum collection contains over 230 years of products for people that are blind or visually impaired, but it also contains a lot of interesting manufacturing and printing history.  Our object this week is a specialty tool used to emboss the print gold leaf spine labels on our braille books.  A “chase” is a frame used to hold printers type in a printing press.  The type was set by hand and the screw handle tightened until the type was locked in place.   The type chase was then slid into a book case stamping machine.  It was probably custom made, either for APH locally, but more likely directly in the APH machine shop sometime around 1960.
Captions: First Photo, Steel table on the chase has a fixed lip on one side and an adjustable lip on the other tightened with a hand screw.
Second Photo: The green linen spine of the American Vest Pocket Dictionary from 1969 shows a gold leaf label stamped with the spine chase.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: A-74 Talking Book Machine

Our object this week is a common Talking Book phonograph from around 1974.  I really like the bright colors that the NLS was using back then.  This one is green and the speaker is mounted in its removable lid.  The passage of the Pratt-Smoot Act in 1931 created the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.  The act was amended in 1933 to include talking book service.  The WPA began manufacturing talking book machines for the NLS in 1935.  The first commercially purchased machines were bought by NLS in 1947.  The first transistorized machines, like this one, appeared in 1968.  Three speeds appeared in 1970.  This example was owned by Eva Morton, an alumni of the Kentucky School for the Blind.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Swail Dot Inverter

Ever since Louis Braille adapted his “Braille Tablet” to write his system, people have been bothered by the downward writing involved in using a braille slate and stylus.  In order to read braille that you write on a standard slate, you have to turn the paper over, so you have to reverse both the direction you write and the characters as you write them.  There have been a lot of different efforts to overcome this perceived deficiency, but I’m not going into that here.  Our object this week is a Swail Dot Inverter, introduced by APH in 1965.  It is a humble little aluminum stylus with a faceted handle and a hollow tipped steel blade.  When not in use, you can store the blade in the handle.  It was designed to emboss raised dots, useful for constructing simple tactile graphics.  You can still buy one!  Although the Swail works with paper, it seems to give the best results with plastic Brailon paper from American Thermoform, which also appeared in the APH catalog for the first time in 1965.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, August 11, 2017

August 2017 APH News

A Few of This Month’s Headlines:

Coming in August: MATT Connect
  • NEW! Bear Hunt - UEB; Indoor Explorer; Explorer Bright Ray; and ECC Icon Poster
  • Order Fall 2017 Textbooks Now!
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • “A Daring Adventure Awaits” at the 2017 APH Annual Meeting of Ex Officio Trustees and Special Guests!
  • Braille Badges Contest Begins This September
  • STEM Corner
  • Treasure From the Migel Library
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Talking Wallet

The talking wallet recognized paper bills and announced their value.  It was developed by the Boston Information & Technology Corporation in cooperation with the American Foundation for the Blind(AFB).  In a 1992 edition of AFB's Braille Monitor, BIT’s President, Mohymen Saddeek, reported that roughly 150 were manufactured before the company failed in a dispute over the product.
There are many tools that supply a voice reading of the information normally gained by sight. Such aids include the talking scale, clock, watch, timer, blood-pressure monitor, thermometer, blood-glucose monitoring kit, talking wallet, label makers, calculators, and computer-speech output.
Photo caption:  The Talking Wallet was black plastic, about 4x6 inches, and opened up to accept the paper bill.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Flyer Announcing a Concert by Students from "The Perkins Institution for the Blind" from 1873!

Our object this week is a small paper broadside from 1873.  In bold print letters it proclaims the appearance of “Mr. J.N. Marble and his associates from the Perkins Institution for the Blind” for a “Concert at Town Hall.”  These were likely pasted up all over town and handed out on the street.  John N. Marble was a student from Massachusetts at Perkins between 1868 and 1871.  Samuel Gridley Howe, the superintendent at Perkins, regularly exhibited his students all over the country, but this show was a money making venture.  It cost a quarter to get in.  We can’t be sure whether “Town Hall,” where the program was staged, was the Old City Hall in Boston or in some other community.  The repertoire featured a variety of popular tunes, primarily American, and concluded with “America,” although that song was not the “America the Beautiful” so familiar today.  That old favorite was not published until 1910.

Photo caption:  Nine by six inch concert flyer with a program listing

Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind


Monday, July 31, 2017

Use the OrCam to Identify Objects, Read Print and More!

The following article comes from Hannah Ziring of OrCam Technologies. I have read about this device, viewed YouTube videos about it, and saw it in action very briefly at one of the summer conventions. You may find the device quite useful for the reasons listed in the article.
Glasses for a Person Who is Blind
The OrCam device is a smart camera that sits on the user’s glasses and reads text aloud to people who are visually impaired or blind.
While the OrCam device is not exactly “
glasses for blind person
”, it definitely looks that way. The device is so small and discreet, it is barely noticeable.
Besides its compact size, there are many amazing OrCam features that make the device unique and accessible.
Easy to use: OrCam MyEye is an intuitive wearable device with a smart camera that clips onto a regular pair of glasses and is able to 'read' text and convert it into speech relaying the message to the user. The device is activated by a simple intuitive gesture – pointing your finger or pressing a single button.
Using OCR - optical character reading - technology, the device can read printed materials on almost any surface such as newspapers, books, computer screens, menus and more.
Portable: Many people who are visually impaired or blind have to carry around a heavy magnifying glass to read text. The OrCam MyEye is small and light and simply attaches to the right side of the user’s glasses frame. The camera weighs ¾ of an ounce and has a thin wire, easily hidden behind the ear, which connects to the base unit or “brain” of the device. The base unit is about the size of a cellphone and can easily sit in one’s pocket or on a belt strap.
Wearable: “You are what you wear.” Wearable technologies have grown tremendously in the past few years. Smart electronic devices that can be worn on the body are practical and discreet. The OrCam is no exception. the device is so discreet that it can barely be seen by others allowing the user to fit in with the crowd.
Privacy: Unlike other OCR technologies, the OrCam does not require a scanner connected to a computer or internet connection. All the information stored in the device is private and only accessible to the user.
Independence: For people who are visually impaired or blind and have conditions that cannot be corrected by glasses or surgery, the OrCam MyEye can be life-changing. Who would have thought that this little camera situated on a pair of glasses could help people who are blind or visually impaired regain their independence.
To contact OrCam, 1350 Broadway, Suite 1600 New York, NY 10018. Phone: 1-800-713-3741 or visit their website where you can request a demo and join their email list.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Humble Wooden Workstand

Our object this week is a humble wooden workstand, made and used here at the American Printing House and painted a nice industrial gray.  Historic photographs show similar custom-made tables in a variety of shapes and sizes used as work stands in a number of processes around the building.  In this picture of the stereograph room where embossing plates were made, you can see a table much like this one in the left foreground.   These tables are an endangered species around APH today.  A few years ago our production department installed a Kaizen construction area where our production staff can put together special purpose tables and materials carts in a jiffy from metal tubes and particle board.  I guess you could say that these old work tables were the Kaizen equivalent of their day.
In the second photo, probably from 1950 or so, office manager Jane Kent guides a group of well-dressed ladies on a tour of the stereograph room at APH.  A transcriber sits in front of a stereograph, translating braille onto metal embossing plates.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Monday, July 24, 2017

Fully Audio Music Lessons for People Who Are Blind


We received an email recently regarding a site dedicated to teaching basic music lessons to people who are blind. some audio music lessons existed in the National Library Service (NLS) catalog, but not many people spoke about them, perhaps causing some people to think that they no longer were available.

Music for the Blind

Although this site is not new, two things make it stand out. First, the site offers basic lessons for more than a dozen instruments. For a number of years, the available lessons mostly were for guitar and piano alone. Some of these lessons, though not all of them, became available on NLS. Second, all of the lessons are done totally by ear; there is no print, braille, video, or music notation.

The teacher describes techniques totally by ear. You hear what the instructor is doing and, after some instruction, are asked to do what he does. The lessons come on CDs, tapes, in some instances, and downloadable audio files. There also is a place on the homepage to sign up for email updates.

Important Accessibility Notes

Before we discuss the lessons in some more detail, there are a few accessibility issues you need to understand. If you do not run into these issues, you can navigate the site with ease; if you do encounter them, however, the below explanation should help you find what you’re looking for on the site.

There is an accessibility sidebar which JAWS shows immediately. This sidebar seems to handle font size and be useful for persons with low vision. At first review with JAWS and Internet Explorer, below this sidebar, you may see only the email signup edit fields and some basic information about the site. You must look for a menu and expand that menu with the space bar. Below that first menu is a second one you must expand in the same way. (You do not have to take these steps with Firefox and JAWS).

Here’s how you expand the menus. As you scroll, you hear, “Top menu navigation.” Press the down arrow key one time; open the menu that gains focus with the space bar. You may have to refresh your screen (hit the JAWS key plus escape to do this with JAWS) before you notice the new links that opening up the menu should display.

After you see a few links, you hear, “Child menu”, and you will be told if that menu is expanded or collapsed. Move to that menu with one press of the down arrow key and expand it with the spacebar to see all remaining links. Again, remember that you likely will have to take these steps using Internet Explorer and probably will not have to do so with Firefox.

Tell Me What I Will Find!

Examples of the courses covered on this site include piano courses, guitar courses,  and drum lessons. However, these are only three of the 13 current course types available. Note that some of the piano and guitar courses are available for download from the BARD site from NLS. Not all of these courses may be available from NLS, however, so please check with the Music for the Blind site and sign up for their emails to see a full list of current courses and to hear about new ones as they are added.

How Do the Courses Work?

When you open up the page that describes one of the course types, you will find one or more brief audio samples. Listen using the accessible audio player, and you will get a feel for how the lessons work. Remember, all lessons are audio only—no video, print, braille, or musical notation!

To buy any course, open the menus, and select the course you want to purchase by clicking its link. You will find the links immediately below the audio samples. Click the one you want and select checkout. Links for each course are clearly labeled and include the price and the media you will receive. Note: You must create an account to complete your purchase. If you have problems accessing the site or would rather speak to someone directly, you can call 888-778-1828. We wish you success with learning to play a new instrument or with improving your existing skills.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Perkins-Binet Intelligence Test

Our object this week is an intelligence test adapted for blind students at the Perkins School for the Blind in the 1960s and 70s and published in 1980 by Dr. Carl Davis.  Intelligence tests have been used in schools since the early 20th century to predict aptitude.  The black box includes all sorts of blocks and small toys that go along with various tasks the test asks the student to complete.   The science behind intelligence tests is complicated, but they try to compare the abilities of the test taker to other kids of the same age, and assign a score based on that comparison.  The available pool of students that were blind or visually impaired was never really large enough to allow test designers to establish what “normal” was, so these kinds of tests fell out of fashion.  But it is a good example of how researchers try to adapt materials developed for sighted learners to the blind community.  Ralph Bartley, our former head of educational research, told me that when he was at the Kansas School for the Blind, he would routinely add 20 points to any IQ score in a blind child’s file to get an accurate idea of the student’s abilities. 
Photos:  I included pictures of the black fiberboard box that holds the test components, a bag of blue wooden beads in different shapes, a toy coffeepot with lid, and a bag holding a small box, a pair of small scissors, and a plastic dog.
 Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Student Speech+ Calculator

I’ve been writing these Throwback Thursday articles for several years now, but I’m always amazed at the classic items I have yet to cover.  Our object this week was introduced in 1978, a joint project between APH and Telesensory Systems, a leading accessibility technology firm founded in 1970 at Stanford University. The Student Speech+ Talking Calculator could speak twenty-four words, and was the first calculator to appear in the APH catalog.  It could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and calculate square roots and percentages.  The readout was a pretty small red LED display, but the buttons were designed in large type.   By comparison to modern voice synthesis on your cell phone—I’m talking to you Siri--the voice was highly electronic.  Telesensory designed the calculator, but it was almost identical to their own version from 1976, the Speech+, which came in brown rather than APH blue. Partial assembly was performed by APH, which also distributed the calculators. They sold originally for $455 and were available until 1982.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Friday, July 07, 2017

July 2017 APH News 
A Few of This Month’s Headlines:


  • Indoor Navigation: The Next Frontier
  • NEW! Six Little Dots - UEB, 2018; Protein Synthesis Kit; Match-It-Up Frames; and Slapstack Math (for iOS Devices)
  • Order Fall 2017 Textbooks Now!
  • Field Tests and Surveys
  • “A Daring Adventure Awaits” at the 2017 APH Annual Meeting of Ex Officio Trustees and Special Guests!
  • The APH Unforgettable Star Contest is back!
  • Braille Badges Contest Begins This September
  • Deadline Approaches for Tactile Illustrated Book Competition
  • Tactile Town Helps Adults Learn Orientation and Mobility
  • Treasure From the Migel Library
  • Social Media Spotlight
  • APH Travel Calendar and more…

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: An Arithmetic Slate

Our object this week is an arithmetic slate from the 1930s.  This is a prototype, the final version was cast in aluminum and featured pentagonal holes.  Pentagonal arithmetic frames were originally developed at the Glasgow Asylum for the Blind in Scotland around 1829.  By turning a metal peg in place, numbers 0-9 and operators were represented.  APH began experimenting with different styles of arithmetic frames in the 1930s.  The frames first entered the catalog in 1935.  By 1937, however, the pentagonal frame was no longer in the catalog, in favor of a gridded frame, often called a “Texas Slate,” which used metal type cast with raised numerals.  A year later, APH introduced its version of the Taylor arithmetic slate, which used octagonal holes, but was similar in concept to the pentagonal design.  APH called its pentagonal slate, the “Bertha Shephard Slate,” but I don’t know who Miss Shephard was.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Celebrating Helen Keller

Our objects each week run from the humble to the sublime.  This week is a bit of both.  I was looking through our collection to see what we could feature in celebration of Helen Keller’s 137th birthday on June 27th.  This is a zinc embossing plate that we used back in 1957 to emboss a letter from Helen promoting the “Jewish Braille Review,” a magazine that the Jewish Braille Institute of America had begun publishing in 1932.  It was a contract job the Printing House did for the Institute, but it also shows how supportive Helen Keller was of all sorts of social causes.  That was the humble part and here is the sublime.  Most American only think of little Helen at the water pump, but her adult life was so much more interesting.  She lent her name and her influence to a variety of causes, here just promoting a braille magazine.  I encourage everyone to read one of her modern biographies this week and remember her as a fighter for labor, for equal rights, and for social justice. Photo Captions:  #1, Zinc Embossing Plate used in a clamshell press to add braille to a print reproduction of a letter by Helen Keller. #2, Copy of the original letter by Helen Keller promoting the Jewish Braille Review 
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Quick Tip: Braille Tales. By enrolling in the Braille Tales Print/Braille Book Program, participating families receive six free print/braille books each year until the child reaches his/her 6th birthday.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Razmara Compass

When an observant Muslim worshipper prays, he/she faces in the direction of the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.  It is a sign of unity.  Before the common use of GPS technology, how did the worshipper determine that direction, called the Qibla, when outside a mosque or home?  They used a compass, of course.  Our object this week is an adapted compass. In 1952, the Iranian Hossein Ali Razmara invented a new compass to determine the direction of Mecca.   The new compass was also adapted for use by the blind in this "contact" model. It is small, only about 2 inches in diameter.  The face is open, so that the magnetic needle can be felt. Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Rainbow Peg Board

Our object this week is a solitaire game manufactured in the 1940s by the Albany Association for the Blind in New York.  If you’ve ever been to Cracker Barrel, it is a lot like the peg game they leave on all the tables, but much more difficult.  The board is a green octagon with thirty-three holes drilled in it, each filled with a colored wooden peg.  On our version someone has numbered the holes in pencil, one through thirty-three.  To start the game, you remove one of the pegs at random, then you can “jump” any peg by moving an adjacent peg over it to a vacant hole, removing the jumped peg.  Like the Cracker Barrel game, the object is to have a single peg left at the end.
Photo caption: The Rainbow Peg Board and its colorful box.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Klein Pin Type--Another Method for Writing Tactile Letters

Johann Wilhelm Klein (1765-1848) founded the Blindeninstitut Wien (Vienna Institute for the Blind) in 1804.  We tend to focus on the inventions of the French—and they were significant! —but the Austrians and Germans made important early contributions to education for people who were blind too.  Around 1807 Klein developed pin-type, a portable device allowing the user to emboss capital letters of the Latin alphabet by piercing the paper with needles arranged on a block. With some difficulty, the method could be read both by touch and sight.  Eventually Klein pin-type boxes were also manufactured and used in other European countries and the U.S.  It is a flat wooden box, hinged on one side, a wooden grid in the base holds metal types, each with a raised letter on one end and a series of needles in the rough shape of the letter on the other.  A frame in the lid is hinged to lift up so a piece of paper can be inserted between the frame and a wool pad.  The frame keeps the lines of your type neat and straight.
This example came from the l'Institution des Jeunes Aveugles in Still, France.  That school was founded in 1895.  Although not marked, it is identical to a second example from that school which featured Blindeninstitut Wien markings.  The three accented vowels suggest it is a German language box.  French language sets include many more accented vowels.  The town of Still is located in the much fought-over region of Alsace-Lorraine, which was controlled by Germany between 1871 and 1918.  As with so many other writing tools, the invention of the typewriter made inventions like this obsolete.
Photo Captions: #1 Wooden case of pin type; #2 Detail of the alloy types, with raised letter on top, and needles on bottom.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: The Apple Talking Literacy Kit

Our object this week celebrates the first computer software produced by the American Printing House for the Blind, the Talking Apple Literacy Kit, published in 1986.  Today, we know Larry Skutchan as the head of our TPR—Technology Product Research—area, but back in the mid-1980s, he was just another whiz kid we had hired to dip our toe into microcomputing.  Larry had done a lot of pioneering work on voice synthesis and word processing, so it was only natural that we put him to work on talking software.  The Apple IIe computer was pretty advanced for its time, and worked well with early voice synthesis modules like the Echo.  Larry reminded me this morning that computers were new to just about everybody, even the most basic concepts, like how to turn the thing on.  The Literacy Kit introduced new computer users to the mouse, and the idea of a cursor that you could move around a block of text to edit or insert new material. It included some games, like Dragon Maze and Space Invaders.   The manual came on two audio cassettes and in braille, and the programs were written on three black plastic “floppy disks,” each of which could hold about 1 megabyte of data.  By comparison, most people carry around phones today that can hold 32,000 megabytes, and those are the most basic models!
Photo caption:  The Talking Apple Literacy Kit came in a blue three-ring binder with pockets for disks and cassettes. The first photo is the outer binder; the second is a shot with it opened to show the diskettes.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Throwback Thursday Object: Braille Tiles--A 19th Century Braille Teaching Tool

Our object this week is a new find, something I found in France with the help of our good friend, Mireille Duhen, a volunteer at the Association Valentin Haüy.  It is a beautiful set of nineteenth century braille tiles, a braille teaching tool.  The tin box holds six rows of red wooden tiles, with the braille symbols picked out in nickel-plated brass pins, and the print symbol stamped below.  Each tile is about the size of a domino.  The tiles are arranged in sets of ten, just as Louis Braille intended his code to be taught.  Braille originally published his system in 1829, but this set of teaching tiles reflects French braille as published in his second edition in 1837.  The use of nickel plating technology on the pins suggests a date in the second half of the nineteenth century when that process became practical for ordinary hardware.  The code is somewhat different from modern French braille, switching the symbols for parentheses and quotes, among other things. Photo Caption:
Flat tin box holding six rows of red wood braille tiles.
Micheal A. Hudson
Museum Director
American Printing House for the Blind

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

3 Reasons for Using a Fake Name for Your Service Animal in Public and 5 Tips for Choosing the Best One for You

Photo Caption: a black lab that's outside by a park railing laying in the shade and looking out beyond the railing.

I took my seat on the Paratransit vehicle, across from a colleague, a lady with her dog guide. The third traveler on the vehicle asked the lady what her dog’s name was; her reply totally took me by surprise.

“What did she just call that dog? That’s not that dog’s name!”

That was exactly what I was thinking. The other rider said hi to the dog using this fake name and then went about his business. The driver dropped him off, and immediately I asked the lady why she gave the guy a different name for her dog. You will discover her answer as we provide 3 reasons why you, also, may wish to use a false name for your service animal in public. Then we will offer 5 tips for picking the best made-up name for your service animal.

The Problem

Traveling with a service animal (a guide dog in my particular case) has many benefits; the admiring public often is not one of them. Sure, it’s great when people tell you how cute your dog is; it’s much more troubling when they want to stop and “Converse” with him, repeating his name time and time again.

Based on the incident outlined above and another similar one I witnessed a few months later, I decided that the “Fake name” idea was a good one. Here are 4 reasons why you also may wish to adopt this strategy.

#1. Safety

While the tasks each service animal performs differ widely, dog guides certainly must concentrate on their work; a dog guide’s mistake could be fatal to the dog and the human it guides. Even in situations where severe injuries and death are not likely, safety is a top priority!

Nothing can prevent onlookers from speaking to your dog, and ultimately you, the handler, are responsible for keeping your dog focused on its work. Nevertheless, you can avoid some dangerous situations by giving strangers a fake name when they ask for one. Each of my guide dogs have react quite positively to hearing their names; they almost always do not react at all if you use a false name. If your dog doesn’t react when you call it by a false name, it is likely to pay much less attention to a stranger who uses that made-up name, keeping both you and your dog much safer.

#2. Distractions

While distractions are related to safety, something can distract a dog and be more of an annoyance than a major safety issue. Again, you cannot remove all possible distractions, but you can remove this frustrating one. Your dog may react to hearing, “Hi, doggie!” But it assuredly will react to, “Hey Juno (or whatever its actual name is!)” You probably can think of many situations where your dog got distracted. While the distraction may not have affected safety, it may have led to the dog misbehaving or losing focus, causing you to correct the dog. If the stranger called the dog by a fake name, the dog probably didn’t react, wasn’t distracted, and didn’t get corrected.

#3. Fun

Ok, this concept may seem strange to some of you, but some people wish their dog’s name was different. Maybe you really don’t like your dog’s name, but, for the dog’s sake, you continue to use it. In public, however, why not use a made-up name? Not only would it, in this instance, lessen distractions and improve safety—it also lets you pretend, even if only for a short time, that your dog had the name you would have chosen instead of its name that you really have trouble tolerating.

Perhaps you have no interest in changing your dog’s name, but you du enjoy pranking others. Giving someone who asks a made-up name for your dog, if nothing else, is a way to prank, fool, or trick someone, and if you’re a prankster, you can have your fun and be safer at the same time. Incidentally, the lady on the Paratransit vehicle cited each of these three reasons when explaining why she used that false name.

5 Tips for Choosing the Best Fake Name

So you’ve decided to try using a fake name for your dog in public; here are 6 tips for picking the best one for you.

#1. Differs Totally from Dog’s Actual Name

Since the goal is for the dog not to react to the name, it should be totally different from the dog’s real name. For instance, if your dog’s name is Hannah, you would steer clear of Ana, Briana, Angela, and maybe any name starting with the letter H. Names like Sally, Trish and Meg would work.

#2. Differs from the Name of a Dog You Are Around Often

You’ve selected a name you like for your dog, but you run into a problem; it sounds too much like the actual name of a dog someone else has at work. Your colleague’s dog is named Larry. You realize that Gary probably isn’t a good name since it’s too similar to your colleagues’ dogs’ name. If this happens, pick something very unique so you don’t cause another dog handler unnecessary problems.

#3. Gender-Neutral or Fits Dog’s Gender

We don’t want to stifle your creativity; nevertheless, you probably don’t want to call your mail dog, Jennifer or your female dog, Rex. You don’t want someone to say something like, “No really! What’s your dog’s name?” Choose a name that is believable, or the stranger may realize you’re “Playing” them which just might lead that stranger to develop a negative opinion of people with disabilities.

#4. Not Offensive

It happens! You come in contact with someone who makes you uncomfortable and may even be a threat to your wellbeing. Even so, it’s best not to use a false name that is offensive or draws too much attention to yourself. Your dog can’t go by “Killer”, “Cujo”, or some other name that makes it out to be overly aggressive. The last thing you want is for someone to call your bluff and try to hurt you or your dog. Using a name that implies that your dog is aggressive draws undue attention to you and the dog—attention you definitely don’t want or need.

#5. Something You Like

If you’re going to use a fake name, make it something you like, especially if you aren’t thrilled with the dog’s real name. Also, if someone’s going to use the name to try to get the dog’s attention, it might as well be a name you would like your dog to have.

Final Thoughts

Here are a few things to consider as it relates to giving people a fake name for your dog.

Don’t Expect the Dog to Respond to It

Whatever situation you come up against, it’s unwise to use the dog’s fake name when you want it to obey you. Use the dog’s real name, and speak at a lower volume, or use hand signals to get the dog to do what you want. In some instances, you don’t need to use a name at all. Many times I’ll say something like, “Come on Mr.” or “Let’s go, boy!” My dog still pays attention, and I didn’t have to use his name.

Admittedly, such a scenario may make you decide that you can just take your chances with just telling people your dog’s real name. I found, though, during my most recent trip to train with a new dog that distractions in public places were easier to handle if the inquisitive public didn’t know my dog’s actual name and couldn’t distract him in that particular way. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if this method will work for you. Maybe you can try it when you go somewhere you won’t go often so you can see if it works well for you.

Avoid Using a Fake Name with People You See Often

One time you probably do not want to employ a false name is around family, work colleagues, or around people you will know well. You are around these people and, in most cases, you can teach them not to use the dog’s name in a distracting way. They will ask how your dog is doing and may use its name, but that usage usually is not distracting.

We have discussed reasons for using a false name in public for your service animal and provided tips for picking a name that works for you. You may wish to try it and see how well this method works for you. Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments or through social media.

Second photo caption: A female black lab laying down on a white couch with her head resting on a man’s legs. The dog is looking at the camera.




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